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Shoulder bursitis is an orthopedic medical condition that is most common with repetitive motions (overuse) secondary to sports and aging. Ultimately, it can leave your shoulder feeling stiff, sore, and weak due to loss of function. If you’ve been diagnosed with shoulder bursitis, exercises can help alleviate pain, restore range of motion and build strength. The primary goal with any home program is to optimize mechanics to reduce strain on the affected tissues. Keep reading to learn the best exercises to help relieve shoulder bursitis pain.
Start with exercises to restore flexibility and range of motion. Then strengthening exercises that focus on stabilizing the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles between the shoulder blades. Always use your symptoms and shoulder stability as a gauge for when you’re ready to progress with repetitions, resistance, and shoulder range.
First, let’s dive into a few dynamic shoulder stretches. You can find all three of these stretches demonstrated in the video below, plus a few others to try (if your symptoms allow).
You can do this basic stretch anywhere- standing, sitting, waiting line at the grocery store, on a work break, etc. Make sure you aren’t forcing the stretch if you feel any pinching in your shoulder, as this can aggravate your symptoms. Over time, you will notice less stiffness in the back of your shoulder, which will help with your overhead shoulder mechanics.
The ability to internally rotate the shoulder can get seriously stiff with shoulder bursitis. However, stretching the shoulder in this direction can be tricky since it can also cause pinching. It’s always important to start slow and keep your posture as upright as possible while completing this stretch.
For a stronger stretch, you can add a stretch strap and pull your hand up toward the shoulder blades (your opposite hand will be guiding from above this time). This will stretch a different part of the shoulder capsule and help to increase internal shoulder range of motion further.
Getting on your hands and knees is a great way to use your own body weight to get a deep overhead shoulder stretch. If this stretch doesn’t feel comfortable, you can always use a pulley (see below) or lie on your back with a cane to stretch as well.
Grab a resistance band for this one. This is a great all in one exercise for addressing rotator cuff and shoulder blade stability at the same time. Since your arms are at your side it is also a very tolerable move. Being able to properly stabilize these muscles is important for decreasing strain on the irritated shoulder bursa.
If this is too difficult or painful for your shoulder, you can downgrade to isometrics “pushing” exercises. This means you keep the arm still as you apply resistance with your opposite hand in various directions. When you’re ready to progress to other shoulder exercises with a resistance band, you can also try internal rotation, shoulder flexion, shoulder abduction, rows, and more (reference the exercise video listed above).
As you gain flexibility with your stretches, it’s important to also progress your active shoulder range of motion that is pain free. This ensures that your muscles are strong enough to tolerate and stabilize the shoulder within the new range that you are gaining. Simple active shoulder motion in standing is a great place to start with the weight of gravity challenging you.
With time, you can add weights or a resistance band and focus on one arm at a time. Other arm movements to try are shoulder abduction (out to the side) and shoulder scaption (at a diagonal).
This is a high-level exercise that focuses on building optimal coordination between the shoulder blades and shoulder joint with overhead movement. At first, this exercise can feel uncomfortable, and take some time to learn to do it correctly. With time, it will get easier as your shoulder muscles and scapular muscles adjust.
There are a lot of great options for maximizing your shoulder bursitis recovery with the use of the right tools. They can help with everything from getting a deeper stretch to quicker strength. Below are a few of the best options for your shoulder rehab program.
This basic rehab tool can be found in every physical therapy clinic. The shoulder pulley is a great versatile tool for comfortably boosting your shoulder’s flexibility. It is essential if you are recovering from shoulder surgery or severe pain that limits your ability to actively move your shoulder. It can also help prevent or treat a frozen shoulder. Simply close it in a door and set yourself up in a chair underneath it. Use your uninjured arm to guide the injured arm passively into limited ranges. With time, you will notice a big difference and you can decrease the amount of assistance you need from the opposite arm.
While a pedal exerciser may be traditionally used for leg movement and strength, it can easily be used for the arms too. Simply place it on a surface that is between hip and chest height and place your hands in the pedals. Turn the pedals backwards or forwards while keeping good posture. This movement helps warm up and loosen the shoulders by boosting circulation and tissue extensibility.
This low cost and low profile tool is a must have for a shoulder rehab program. It’s always best to start with a light resistance band with arm exercises at your side. Then, with time progress the resistance and range of motion you are working through. You can get as simple or complex as you want with this flexible tool.
A stretch strap is also a very versatile tool for shoulder flexibility. It is especially important for anyone that is significantly limited in their shoulder range of motion. Use it to guide your shoulder into hard-to-reach ranges while still being able to stay relaxed- a key to effective stretching. You could even use it for isometric strengthening too (using your muscles without having to move the joint).
A foam roller can be used for many different purposes when it comes to shoulder recovery- from massage to stretching and core stability. One of the most effective uses of the foam roller with a shoulder injury is to lie on your back and mobilize the mid-back on the roller horizontally. This helps improve shoulder mechanics by maximizing posture. For other great upper body ideas, look below.
What movements you should be avoiding is dependent on what stage of recovery you are in and your fitness level. Ultimately, your symptoms will dictate what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Yet, some moves are more aggravating than others and can lead to a rotator cuff injury or tendinitis. These are the moves to keep in mind.
To maximize your exercise routine, there are a few simple things to keep in mind. They will help boost your recovery and keep you feeling your best. Follow these tips:
With a proper home exercise program, you can expect gradual progress and reduced symptoms with consistency. Depending on the severity of your shoulder bursitis and other underlying issues, you can expect better-managed symptoms or even a full recovery. That means more time doing the sports and activities that you love.
If your symptoms are getting worse or affecting your quality of life, get in touch with your orthopedic doctor or trusted healthcare provider immediately for further medical advice.
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